How To Help Children And Adolescents Deal With Grief Caused By Bereavement
It is tremendously difficult to talk to your child about death. It’s difficult to talk about something that we don’t fully understand and have absolutely no control over.Within our society, it is an unspoken rule that children and adolescents should be shielded from life's tumultuous and sometimes, difficult design. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to shield a child from death, when it happens. Perhaps it is the nature of the beast, no one is ever fully ready to manage the death of a loved one. Grief by its nature is a caged wild animal which at any point can lash out at its keeper and create chaos.
“Daniel just stood there staring at the body… why is granddad cold? Should I get him a blanket? Mom?? Mom??” –
(Mrs D’souza describing her son at her father’s funeral)
While there is no denying that the loss of a loved one takes a toll on every member of the family, there are certain guidelines that can help adults navigate through those distressing conversations.
- Communicate: To be more precise, we need to communicate honestly, this means acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers, discussing your feelings, and focussing on the things you do know.
2. Let the child participate in the rituals: There is a misguided understanding that funerals can be too much for children to handle. Recent studies have suggested that attending the funeral of a loved one and participating in rituals has a cathartic effect. At funerals, children observe how people are behaving and somewhere this assists them in understanding that it is okay to be sad, to cry or to miss the deceased person.
3. Understand that sudden death can have an impact on children's social development: When children experience someone’s death suddenly and at a young age, there is an impact. Some children experience anxiety, others regress, some begin to behave older than their age. All these responses are normal, given the situation. However, if these responses continue for a prolonged period of time and continue to escalate, then it is advised you seek professional guidance. Adolescents may respond with anger, reckless behaviour, depressive symptoms, anxiety or simply shut down all forms of communication.
Again this response isn’t uncommon and given the situation, not uncalled for. If this occurs, it is best to keep an open line of communication between the young person and yourself; be patient, and encourage them to talk to a professional or a trusted third party about their feelings.
To lose a loved one is one of the hardest life experiences one can endure. Death reminds us of the uncertainty of the present and that love and pain are two sides of the same coin. In the world today, we hear of death every day, yet when we experience it, it comes as a shock. While dealing with a child or adolescent in mourning, I beseech parents and adults to keep in mind that a young person struggling with grief requires empathy.
Tanya Vasunia is Psychologist and Case Coordinator at Mpower.